What is the meaning of “as above, so below”?
“The meaning of “As above, so below” is that events on Earth reflect in the astral plane. Another interpretation suggests the individual (microcosm) is influenced by society (macrocosm). The expression is tied to Hermeticism and the Emerald Tablet.
In essence, the expression examines places with duality, where one half is deemed “above” and the other “below.”
It tries to establish a relation between the two.
The origins of “as above, so below”
To truly appreciate this expression, we need to cover a few main key points first.
What is Hermeticism?
Hermeticism is an ancient religion and philosophy.
The main writings of this esoteric tradition come from Hermes Trismegistus.
They have been very influential to Western culture, particularly during the Renaissance and the Reformation.
Interestingly, Hermeticism can trace its origins to Prisca Theologia, a monotheistic doctrine.
So, who was Hermes Trismegistus?
Well, here is where things start to get tricky.
He is the supposed author of the Hermetic Corpus, the texts that form the basis of Hermeticism, sort of like the Bible for Christianity.
On the one hand, some writers such as Giordano Bruno and Ralph Waldo Emerson believed Hermes to be a sage prophet who was able to foretell the rise of Christianity.
Moreover, Christians adopted a large part of Hermetic teachings, primarily to validate the teachings of the Prisca Theologia.
As a result, they considered Hermes to either be a contemporary of Moses or another individual who predated Christianity.
Some may even go further and say that Hermes Trismegistus has relations to both the Greek God Hermes as well as the Egyptian God Thoth.
The idea was that the ancients realized that Hermes, the God of interpretive communication, was equivalent to Thoth, the Egyptian God of wisdom.
Ergo, the two gods were combined and worshiped as one.
On the other hand, when analyzing the Hermetic texts, a discrepancy arose.
According to a Swiss philologist named Isaac Casaubon, the Hermetic texts weren’t written in ancient times.
Instead, they were written sometime around the second or third century C.E.
However, this was later disputed by Ralph Cudworth, who claimed that Casaubon’s analysis didn’t apply to all Hermetic texts.
Interestingly, one of the Hermetic texts whose origin is uncertain is the Emerald Tablet.
The Emerald Tablet
The Emerald Tablet, which also goes by the names Smaragdine Tablet and Tabula Smaragdina, is a part of the Hermetic texts.
It focuses on the Prima Materia, which was considered to be the necessary starting material for all other matter, making it a cornerstone of alchemy.
This is why the Emerald Tablet was so important for alchemists.
No one is certain about the source of the Emerald Tablet.
Hermes Trismegistus is often considered its author.
However, the text first appeared in an Arabic document written between the sixth and eighth centuries.
In fact, the text wasn’t translated into Latin until the twelfth century.
As a result, some historians believe that the Emerald Tablet was actually first composed in Arabic.
It is in the Emerald Tablet that we find our expression.
”As above, so below” in Hermeticism
If we were to look at one of the translations of the Emerald Tablet, the one done by Isaac Newton, we would find that the first few lines go as follows.
that which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below
to do the miracle of one only thing.
Ergo, as you can see, “as above, so below” is a paraphrase of the line bolded above.
So, what does “as above, so below” mean in the text?
Well, by now, we have enough context to explore this a bit. We already know that the Emerald Tablet was about alchemy and focused on Prima Materia.
Ergo, one interpretation of the line can be that whatever happens in Nature, i.e. what is above or in the macrocosm, is mirrored in the alchemical lab, i.e. what is below or in the microcosm.
Other meanings of the expression “as above, so below”
However, this expression has developed other meanings.
For example, while the “as above” part could refer to nature and the cosmos, the “so below” part could refer to what happens inside of us as human beings and creatures.
In other words, the Prima Materia could be considered to be the Anima Mundi, the latter of which is an expression denoting consciousness.
Astrologers have taken the expression to mean that what happens in the stars affects our everyday lives.
Others have chosen to see it as meaning that the human body, the microcosm, can act as a miniature version of the outside world, the macrocosm.
Ergo, they believe that the best way to understand the outside world would be to start by studying the human body. This is where arts such as palmistry and Tarot derive their main arguments.
Another group has chosen to see the universe as composed of two main components, the physical and the spiritual.
According to them, whatever happens in one component is bound to affect the other.
This is where the concepts of magic and the astral plane come from. It is also where the idea of doing good things in the physical world will reflect in the spiritual world, purifying the actor’s soul.
Others have chosen to toss away the mystic interpretations and look at more concrete relations.
For instance, the human body contains patterns that can be seen reflected in the cosmos, bearing in mind the difference in scale.
The dendritic patterns drawn by our veins and nerve cells are very similar to the patterns seen in trees and rivers.
Another instance is how a number like Phi can be seen in different aspects of nature, including the human body. The proportions of the body seem to follow a very regular numerical pattern.
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